Let’s get started: I’m So Excited, First Cousin Once Removed, Dirty Wars

imsoexcitedThe Melbourne International Film Festival has now begun, kicking off with the Australian red carpet premiere of Pedro Almodovar’s new film I’m So Excited last night. No doubt there are a few people still struggling to recover from the post-film festivities.

Below, I look at I’m So Excited and a couple of other films I’ve quickly reviewed before walking into my next batch. In short, I’m So Excited and Dirty Wars were less than perfect, while First Cousin Once Removed was absolutely outstanding (and ethically shaky).

I’m So Excited

I’ll begin by saying that I’ve never been able to dive into the work of Almodovar with any great level of passion. While I recognise him as a significant auteur and acknowledge his achievements, there is something in his melodramatic approach that causes an emotional disconnect in me.

Having got this disclosure out of the way, I believe I can comfortably say that this is a fairly slight entry into the Almodovar oeuvre. A simple farce that focuses on the occupants of a commercial airliner unable to land until a technical difficulty is repaired, I was reminded more of the Carry On series than Almodovar in many ways. A range of borderline-offensive stereotypes play out as a series of eye-roll inducing coincidences bring the narratives of the crew and passengers together in an appreciably brief running time. That the camp stereotypes and melodramatic coincidences are a part of the joke doesn’t make them particularly funny. I was not particularly excited.

First Cousin Once Removed

Alan Berliner observes the final five years of his first cousin once removed in this fascinating documentary on the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s. His aforementioned cousin is Edwin Honig, a respected poet, translator, literary critic and former professor now reduced to a shadow of his former self.

Berliner’s approach eschews linearity by jumping backwards and forwards in time across a five year period without indication, a decision that reflects Honig’s own fragmented state of mind – and an approach that is remarkably successful despite moments of over-stylised flourish. It is a simple and intimately crafted production, and Berliner’s greatest achievements lie in the film’s unique insights into the experience of losing one’s own memories and sense of time. Indeed, the most powerful moments come from Honig’s own sudden bursts of clarity, in which he beautifully and tragically articulates, with a poet’s flair, the experience of losing the past.

Some would probably suggest that this film is exploitative in its willingness to expose the frail and humiliating final years of a once great poet, who any reasonable person would recognise as having no capacity for consent. I have no counter argument to this, beyond simply noting that the portrait is a sensitive one, carefully constructed by a filmmaker who has been close to Honig for decades, and that some of Honig’s former associates believe he would have found the project objectively fascinating.

Whether this is enough of a justification, I do not know. What I can say is that this is a powerfully visceral and intimate account of one of life’s most disturbing possibilities, having one’s mind slide into absolute obliviousness. The sharp decline of its subject from great poet to lost soul is a painful thing to witness, and this will not be for everybody, but it’s not an experience one is likely to forget.

Dirty Wars

Richard Rowley directs this insightful, if slightly muddled, documentary based on the book, The World is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill. Focusing on Scahill’s investigation of the accidental killing of innocents by the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan, as well as the US assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, there is no doubt that the film opens eyes to some uncomfortable truths about the way the world operates in the twenty-first century.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. Despite the critical praise heaped on this film, on a stylistic level it is incredibly irritating. Scahill’s narration feels pretentious in both form and content – as does much of the over-filtered Hollywood style cinematography. All this gives it a kind of pseudo spy-thriller aesthetic that distracts from the importance of the message. It should also be noted that the film jumps around far too quickly, leaving empty spaces that render its contentions less credible than they should be (I have no doubt that these blanks are filled in in Scahill’s book).

These negatives aside, Rowley’s film brings to life what many of us forget about the consequences of and amorality of modern warfare – that there are human lives at the other end.

Plenty more to come!

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

5 thoughts on “Let’s get started: I’m So Excited, First Cousin Once Removed, Dirty Wars

  1. I wonder if some of the film’s meaning is lost on non-Spanish audiences? It seems like Almodovar is making some sort of commentary on the Spanish financial crisis through the image of an airplane that is slowly spiraling down to certain doom. I’m a huge fan of Almodovar’s work, but found myself more puzzled than usual by this one; still, I have a suspicion that my confusion might be the result of not having a firm grounding on this crisis.

  2. Good first report James. Unlike you, i have felt connected to most of Almodovar’s work in the past. ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ was one of my all-time favourites. He has always teetered on the edge of farce (‘Women on the edge of a nervous breakdown’) but it would appear from your review, that he has descended into the trap completely this time. The German documentary sounds compelling, though your evaluation of Dirty Wars makes me less inclined to ever watch it.
    Great stuff, looking forward to more! regards from England, Pete.

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